Washington, D.C., February 23, 2017 – Tzedek DC, the first non-profit legal services organization sponsored by the Washington Jewish community, is now a full-time public interest center at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, announced Katherine “Shelley” Broderick, Dean of the School of Law, and Tzedek DC’s Board Chair Irvin Nathan.
Tzedek DC focuses on protecting low-income DC residents facing life-altering, often unjust, debt collection lawsuits and other consumer protection crises. This Jewish-values organization reunites Nathan, former DC Attorney General and past Board Chair of the local chapter of the American Jewish Congress, and Ariel Levinson-Waldman, who was Nathan’s deputy at the Office of Attorney General before serving in the Obama Administration, and is Tzedek DC’s founder and chief executive. In addition to its Board, Tzedek DC is supported by a thirty-member Advisory Council made up of leaders from the DC legal, consumer protection, business, civic, and faith communities.
Tzedek DC’s name and philosophy are drawn from the ancient Jewish tenet: “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” or “Justice, justice we shall pursue.” With this message at its core, the organization got its start thanks in part to a Fellowship granted to Levinson-Waldman by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to exploredebt-related issues facing low-income D.C. community members of all faiths and backgrounds. These vulnerable residents are often saddled with debt collection lawsuits that, as studies as well as client and provider consults show, can have life-altering consequences: the loss of an indispensable driver’s license, the seizure or garnishment of a bank account, and the inability to secure employment due to a bad credit report. Such developments can set off a spiral that increases the risks of unemployment, homelessness, and prison. Tzedek DC seeks to address such debt-related legal crises before their effects become irreversible.
Levinson-Waldman noted: “Tzedek DC’s focus is fundamentally on a civil rights issue, serving the communities where predatory abuses in lending and lawsuits have been most prevalent. Although there is well-established evidence that access to legal help in these cases makes a dramatic difference in the outcome, most people facing debt problems or a debt collection lawsuit get no legal help. Through our community outreach and education, policy reform, and direct legal services, Tzedek DC is working to change that. In our first weeks of full-time operations, we are developing Know Your Rights materials in English and Spanish, initiating research and policy work on ending the suspension of drivers’ licenses for District residents from default civil judgments, beginning to accept clients in debt matters, co-submitting a Supreme Court amicus brief in support of consumers, and presenting at a DC Bar panel on the debt collection industry.”
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser commented: “I applaud leaders of both the Federation and the Jewish Community for focusing on these significant progressive and social justice efforts.” The Mayor also commended these efforts “to build and strengthen community bridges…across our wonderfully diverse city,” and stated that “I could not imagine a more appropriate place to house [this] work than our University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.”
Dean Broderick said: “We are thrilled to house this public interest work by an outstanding team, and for our students at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law to have opportunities to participate in these legal and community education efforts.”
Irvin Nathan, on behalf of the all-volunteer Tzedek DC Board, said: “This work will have a significant impact in helping District residents stay on a path to financial stability and is particularly critical now, as the safety net and consumer protection efforts of the federal government are facing a severe threat. In our past work together, I have seen up close the terrific contributions Ariel has made through tenacious lawyering, creative partnering with community leaders, and conscientious execution. I have every confidence that he will bring that same drive and creativity in Tzedek DC’s work for District residents and in building bridges among our communities.”
Ward 7 Councilmember and former District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray said: “I worked closely with Irv and Ariel during their dedicated DC Government service, and I’m proud to support their work with Tzedek DC. I’m pleased and thankful that they will focus resources on those who need this help the most, especially the residents of Ward 7.”
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine commented: “Debt collectors have enormous power to affect consumers’ lives. Private legal aid efforts like Tzedek DC that represent and empower individual District residents are a critical on-the-ground complement to the extensive work we are doing in the Office of the Attorney General to protect DC consumers, and I am especially pleased to coordinate efforts with an organization led by these outstanding former leaders of this office and other community leaders like Ron Glancz and Seth Rosenthal.”
Dana Jones, Executive Director of the United Planning Organization (UPO), a long-established non-profit organization that is partnering with Tzedek DC to provide Know Your Rights materials and financial literacy courses at the Petey Greene Community Service Center at 2907 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, said: “We look forward to building on our partnership with Tzedek DC for the benefit of our thousands of Ward 7 and Ward 8 customers, who through this work can find ways to avoid future debt crises in the first place, and to acquire tools to fight back against abusive industry practices when they do arise.”
Beatriz (BB) Otero, former Deputy Mayor, longtime DC Latino community leader, and former CEO of CentroNía, stated: “Tzedek DC’s work to support households with recent immigrants and its collaborations with the Hispanic National Bar Association provide critical protections for vulnerable DC households.”
Steven A. Rakitt, Chief Executive Officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, commented: “Federation’s ConnectGens Fellows are encouraged to dream big, shape a vision, and address a critical community need. Ariel Levinson-Waldman has done just that with Tzedek DC. We applaud his determination and that of his leadership, board, and advisory council to help DC community members navigate the financial and legal challenges they face. I am proud that Federation’s United Jewish Endowment Fund provided a matching grant to help bring Tzedek DC to fruition, and we wish Ariel and his leadership a hearty mazel tov as they move forward.”
Ronald Halber is Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), the central community relations agency of the organized Jewish community. He said: “the JCRC is proud to designate Tzedek DC as its first Strategic Partner,” and added: “this work builds on our strong Jewish community social justice traditions, and strengthens bridges of understanding across our entire community.”
Peter Edelman, Chair of the DC Access to Justice Commission andFaculty Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, commented that this is a “mitzvah of the first order” and said: “I’m excited because the project is badly needed, because it is in our community, and because it is an effort in the Jewish community. Tzedek DC. I love that…So please, all of you, get involved.”
Contact: Rachel Gray, Tzedek DC Staff Member, at RG@tzedekdc.org
About Tzedek DC
Tzedek DC is an independent public interest center at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, with a focus on safeguarding the rights of low-income DC residents facing often unjust debt collection lawsuits and other predatory consumer finance actions. Tzedek DC tax exempt 501c3 public charity supported by charitable donations and grants. For more information or to get involved, see www.tzedekdc.org
About UDC and the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law
The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is a Historically Black University (HBU). UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law is the only public law school in the Nation’s Capital and is committed to the public interest, using the law to help those in need. U.S. News & World Report’s Best Law Schools 2017 ranked the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law number ten in the country in law school clinical training. For more, see www.law.udc.edu
About The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is a non-profit organization that, among other things, seeks to expand services to the most vulnerable among us to meet the growing needs of at-risk populations locally and to create a vibrant and purposeful Jewish community through caring for those in need. For more information, see http://www.shalomdc.org/about/
About Ariel Levinson-Waldman, Founding President and Director-Counsel, Tzedek DC.
Ariel most recently served in the Obama Administration under Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez as the Department’s Advisor to the White House Interagency Legal Aid Roundtable, and before that served under Attorney General Irvin Nathan and then Attorney General Karl Racine in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. While in private practice earlier in his career, he represented the NAACP. His commitment to access to justice in our society stems in part from his grandparents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors and his father’s experience as an immigrant to the United States. A full version of his biography is at: http://www.tzedekdc.org/leadership/